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Matriarch is a living history

April E. Clark

In an antique trunk in her cozy apartment, Bessie Simonsen stores a Moroccan mirror tile purse – one of many keepsakes from her whirlwind life abroad.During her 95 years, the petite great-great-great grandmother has lived in Australia, Thailand, Africa and Korea. Now she’s at home in Glenwood Springs enjoying her role as the matriarch of a six-generation family.”I have had an interesting life,” said Simonsen, who was born in Palace, Okla., on April 2, 1909. “I always lived by the credo, ‘If I work hard, I play hard.’ I’ve done a lot of traveling, fishing and hunting. My second husband was a traveler and went on safaris. When he wasn’t working, we were traveling. When we first went to Australia, we lived in the bush.”With a grandfather whom she recalls having “itchy feet” and pioneering parents, Simonsen became accustomed to trailblazing early in life. In 1915 she traveled with her parents, J.E. and Pearl Edwards, and her brothers and sisters in a covered wagon from Washington state. “I can also remember traveling on a steamboat when my parents left Washington,” she said. “My father was a cowboy – he was quite the one with horses. He always said, ‘I have five daughters and none of them walk. They all run.’ And my granddad, he was sort of a nomad, always wanting to move.”Simonsen remembers living in southeastern Colorado as a child and eventually settling in Silt. In 1921, her father bought a general store at Fairview, on Divide Creek. “It would take all day for my dad to go from Dry Hollow to Glenwood Springs,” she said. “This was before the roads were paved. Back then, the canyon was full of dust.” Starting out youngIn 1928, at the age of 19, Simonsen married her first husband, Bob McDonald, and later had three children: Bobbie, Darlene, and Shirley. The couple were married for 24 years.”I grew up with my children and I loved them so much,” she said. “During World War II we lived in Michigan, and my husband worked for the Ford Motor Co. making airplanes and parachutes.”In the 1940s and ’50s, Simonsen and her family lived in Long Beach, Calif., a city that remains close to her heart.”My girls went to high school in California and I made their clothes so they could keep up with the fads,” she said. “The only way I could afford cashmere sweaters for them was by sewing their other clothes. I made beautiful wool poodle skirts, jackets and petticoats.”During the 1960s, Simonsen’s life took an adventurous turn after she met and married her second husband, Seymour. The couple traveled all over the world as part of Seymour’s career in heavy construction.”Mom always wanted to travel and after she met Seymour, that’s what she did,” said daughter Shirley Mobley, of Glenwood Springs. “He had a fantastic life. I was always fascinated by him.”As Simonsen flipped through old snapshots documenting her life, it was evident Mobley was not the only one drawn to Seymour’s zest for life.”When I met Seymour he asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” Simonsen said. “He said to me, ‘Save your money and maybe I’ll take you around the world’ – and he did. In my life, I know I’ve done more than a lot of women my age.”A jet-setting setAlthough the couple kept a home in Boise, Idaho, they embraced international cultures such as Madrid, Bangkok, Nepal, Singapore, Morocco and Malaysia during their 20-year marriage. Highlights include a visit to the Taj Mahal and a trip to Anchor Watt, an ancient village in Cambodia, on one of several special visas.”My husband once said to me, ‘You’re an unusual woman – not a lot of women would go the places you go with me.’ I trampled through the jungle and cut my way through. In Morocco we went clear up the Andes on donkeys, where we fished and hunted wild boar. We had a special visa to get into Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia to fish. My greatest fishing was in Spain and also in Mexico, where we spent eight winters.”Along with hunting and fishing, Simonsen had the opportunity to perfect her love of cooking while traveling abroad. She said her specialty is Oriental cuisine. “I used to make all of my egg rolls and I’ve given recipes out from all over the world,” said Simonsen, who is no longer able to cook like she did in her younger years. “I’ve perfected Moroccan cous-cous. I would give my right arm for one of my home-cooked Chinese meals.”Today, Simonsen’s extended family revels in her experiences. Mobley said her son has followed in his grandmother’s culinary footsteps.”My youngest son has turned out to be the cook in the family,” she said. “He just loves to pick his grandma’s brain for recipes. Everyone has said she should put out a cookbook.”Family matters mostFamily get-togethers not only allow Simonsen’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren the opportunity to learn about her past, but they also serve as a way to honor her perseverance.”Just last year, at our family reunion, I had a wonderful surprise,” she said. “My nephew stood up and said, ‘Everybody pay attention – we’re going to have a toast for Bessie’s 95th birthday.’ That was special.”At a Christmas gathering last month, Simonsen and her female kin showed just special she is by posing for a six-generation photograph, a milestone few families can boast. The youngest addition is Audrey Abbott of Rifle, who weighed only 3 pounds when she was born on May 30.”I’ve enjoyed my years and am happy spending time with my family,” Simonsen said.For Simonsen’s children, grandchildren, and well beyond, the feeling is mutual.Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518, aclark@postindependent.com


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